belowstairs

Unromanticizing a Classic in ‘Longbourn’

17380041Longbourn by Jo Baker*
Knopf, October 8, 2013 (Historical Fiction)

Rating: I’d go there again!

Longbourn is a historical novel that’s been receiving a lot of buzz and made the October 2013 LibraryReads list. Naturally after hearing that Longbourn is a return to Pride and Prejudice I was intrigued. The fact that Longbourn focuses on the servant staff was another added layer that promised for an interesting take on a classic. Generally, when an author takes on a classic, it’s tough to beat. People view the classics as timeless, and Pride and Prejudice is no exception; people don’t want you messing with such literature. However, Longbourn is a fabulous return to the classic novel and I think fans of Austen will enjoy it and I think there’s also a lot here that will appeal to those who aren’t fans of Pride and Prejudice. Ultimately, Longbourn is it’s own novel, a separate entity from the classic and if you recognize this, you will be delighted.

Sarah is a young housemaid working for the Bennett family at Longbourn. Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, took her in as a child and has taught her everything she knows. Unfortunately, Sarah is not content with her lot in life; she yearns for more, she wants her world to be larger than her existence in the countryside. Sarah’s monotonous days seem to be at and end when two things happen: first, the arrival of a new footman, James, and second, the Bingley’s have come to town, bringing with them a handsome young servant, Ptolemy, who quite intrigues Sarah. Suddenly, Sarah’s life seems a whole lot larger and she’s almost swept off her feet by Ptolemy and his grand plans, if it weren’t for James and his convincing her to stay at Longbourn.

Longbourn is beautifully written, the pages flow by with it’s simple and powerful language. And this simplicity changes how you look back on Pride and Prejudice. It’s not the flowery language that you encounter in other romantic historicals because readers are focused on those are behind the scenes in those novels. Sarah’s not waiting for her Mr. Darcy, she’s not dressed elegantly in the hopes of catching a spouse, in stead she’s happy for the cast offs of the Bennett sisters. Sarah’s not educated like the Bennett ladies, and this lack of education shows in her language and what she’s allowed to say in comparison to gently bred young ladies of the time. This alternative viewpoint did take away some of the romance of Pride and Prejudice, it had to. Being a servant isn’t romantic work, and Sarah resents having to wash Elizabeth Bennett’s dresses after she’s trudged all over the countryside. This picture of Elizabeth being different from other young women seems romantic in Pride and Prejudice, but in Longbourn you can see the consequences of Elizabeth’s eccentricities and how it impacts those around her. I certainly think of Pride and Prejudice differently after reading Longbourn, and it’s certainly not a bad thing.

What I also loved about Longbourn was Sarah’s relationship with James. James is such a mystery; there’s obvious some dark secret in his past and a reason why he showed up at Longbourn of all places. Sarah was a perfect counter to the serious James. Sarah was a dreamer and willing to take a risk on him even though it was likely a bad idea. This was a quiet romance and I loved it. I think some could claim that the conclusion was overly optimistic and unrealistic; however, I think what readers know of Sarah and her dreams of more, it’s understandable of her to leave a good position and seek out what she wants. Sarah is ahead of her time and unwilling to compromise on what she wants in her determined and quiet way. She was a great character, and in her own way, reminded me of an Elizabeth Bennett, which may have been the authors intent all along.

Overall, Longbourn was a fantastic read. It was quick to get through, the story and the characters were compelling and the historical details were interesting. I recommend it to historical fiction fans, but especially those who like Downton Abbey and the contrast between the upper and serving class.

On a final note, for those who are disappointed that Mary Bennett didn’t get her happy ending, you should check out Pamela Mingle’s The Pursuit of Mary Bennett, which is due out in November 2013.There’s not serving class point of view here, but readers get to see into Mary’s head and find out if she get’s her happy ending, and I always thought she deserved one.

*Source: Edelweiss

Read-Alikes:

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride & Prejudice NovelThe DressmakerThe Tea Rose

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Fall Itinerary

17380041Now that September’s hit, I feel like my reading list is out of control. There’s so much that I want/have to read this fall, I can’t help but think it’s really too bad that librarians don’t get to read all day at work. So without further ado, here’s a list of my most anticipated reads for this fall. Some (if they’re as good as I hope they are) will be reviewed here in the coming weeks and months. In no particular order…

1. Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood (September 3, 2013)

I first discovered Atwood after having to reading The Handmaid’s Tale in high school and have loved her dystopian books ever since. I’ve been following the Maddaddam trilogy, and have been both entranced and disturbed by the vision of the future Atwood displays. I can’t wait for the conclusion.

2. Longbourn by Jo Baker (October 8, 2013)

Pride and Prejudice remix? Yes, please! I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about Longbourn and the downstairs version of Pride and Prejudice. In some ways, I think it’s capitalizing on the Downton Abbey success and I can only hope that it lives up to the hype. Since I’ve got an advance reader copy, hopefully I will be proven right sooner rather than later.

3. Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas (August 27, 2013)

I loved Maas’ Throne of Glass and have been anxiously awaiting this one forever. I’m currently reading it. I love it, but I also hate it, since I know it’s NOT going to end well and then I will have another year to wait to find out what happens next. It’s moments like these when you wish you hadn’t discovered a series until after all the books were published.

4. The Sum of All Kisses by Julia Quinn (October 29, 2013) 15702268

I love Julia Quinn. Her historical romances are cute and quirky, and I especially loved her latest featuring a mathematical genius with a limp. I can promise that this one doesn’t disappoint, since I’ve already read my review copy. I’ll be posting my review closer to the publication date.

5. A Study in Darkness by Emma Jane Holloway (October 29, 2013)

Steampunk is a genre close to my heart. I love the combination of a historical locale and the impossible. Holloway’s Victorian London, combines magic, steam barons, mystery and a dash of romance, all centred around her intrepid heroine, Evelina Cooper, Sherlock Holmes’ niece. I’ve just started reading it; so far, so good!

6. No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean (November 26, 2013)

MacLean’s another one of my favourite historical romance writers. She gives up great plots, great characters and fantastic romance. This will be third book in the Scoundrels series and I can’t wait for Temple’s story.

7. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (September 24, 2013)

The Shining is a book that I discovered in university when I had to read it for a class about hauntings. It was terrifying and amazing at the same time. I can’t promise that I’ll read this one right away, but it will be interesting to see what King does with Danny’s character after the events of The Shining.

171655938. Mortal Arts by Anna Lee Huber (September 3, 2013)

I’m not generally a huge mystery fan, but there’s something about a historical mystery that just draws me in. The second book in Huber’s Lady Darby series promises to be fantastic, now if only my library’s copy would arrive!

9. Allegiant by Veronica Roth (October 22, 2013)

Who isn’t looking forward to this one? Unfortunately, I’m near the bottom of the holds list at my library, so I probably wont be reading this one until the winter, but I’m still excited about it, especially since I keep seeing pictures of the upcoming film adaptation of Divergent.

10. Inhuman by Kat Falls (September 24, 2013)

Another teen dystopian. I don’t know too much about it, but it looks good. Plus, I have an advance copy, so how can I not be excited about that?

There will, of course, be other books that I’ll want to add to my “to-read” list for the fall – so it’s pretty clear that I need to retreat to my reading cave and blind myself with reading.